Mickelson says he has ‘deep empathy’ for 9/11 victims after LIV Series criticism

Phil Mickelson has expressed his “deepest sympathy” to the families of those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, after he received stinging criticism of his decision to join the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series.

A group representing victims’ families and survivors accused Mickelson and a number of fellow high-profile American players of sportswashing and betraying their country by competing in last week’s event at Centurion Club.

Asked about the letter written by Terry Strada, the national chair of 911familiesunited.org, a visibly uncomfortable Mickelson said on Monday: “I would say to the Strada family, I would say to everyone that has lost loved ones, lost friends on 9/11 that I have deep, deep empathy for them. I can’t emphasise that enough. I have the deepest of sympathy and empathy for them.”

Pressed on whether he would respond privately to the letter, Mickelson largely repeated his earlier answer. His comments cut little ice with Strada, whose husband was killed in the 9/11 attacks.

“Phil knows exactly what he’s doing, and he and his fellow LIV golfers should be ashamed,” she said. “They are helping the Saudi regime sportswash their reputation in return for tens of millions of dollars, at the very same time our government is rolling out more damning evidence of Saudi culpability in the 9/11 attacks.

“As the PGA Tour commissioner [Jay Monahan] said Sunday, ‘You’d have to be living under a rock’ to not understand the implications of involving yourself with the Saudis.”

Mickelson and the other 16 PGA Tour members who competed in the first LIV Golf event without permission were instantly suspended by the Tour, although some had already resigned their membership.

That is something Mickelson has no intention of doing and the 51-year-old said on Monday that he would like to play on the PGA Tour again.

“My preference is to be able to choose which path I would like, one or the other or both,” said Mickelson. “I feel that I gave as much back to the PGA Tour and the game of golf that I could throughout my 30 years here, and through my accomplishments on the course I’ve earned a lifetime membership. I intend to keep that and then choose going forward which events to play and not.”

Victory on Sunday would see Mickelson become the sixth player to complete a career grand slam, although he admits that will be difficult given his lack of competitive golf.

“That’s going to be a challenge, right. It’s the most difficult test in golf,” said Mickelson, who shot 10 over par to finish in a tie for 33rd last week in his first event since February. “I think it was important for me to have a little bit of competitive golf last week and identify some of the areas of weakness. It was one of the worst putting tournaments I’ve had in years.”

Elsewhere in the US Open field, Spain’s Jon Rahm will make an early start to his bid to successfully defend his title at Brookline. Rahm, who won his first major at Torrey Pines last year with birdies on the final two holes, will tee off at 7.18am local time (12.18pm BST) on Thursday, alongside Open champion Collin Morikawa and 2021 US Amateur winner James Piot.

Rory McIlroy, who successfully defended his RBC Canadian Open title on Sunday, is also among the early starters from the 10th tee, the world No 3 is joined by former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama and Olympic gold medallist Xander Schauffele at 7.40am. Mickelson gets his campaign under way at 1.47pm local time alongside Shane Lowry and Louis Oosthuizen.

Three-time winner Tiger Woods is not in the field after opting to give his body more time to recover ahead of the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews next month.

Woods was in obvious pain from the leg he almost lost in a 2021 car accident before withdrawing from the US PGA Championship following a third round of 79.

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